As I write this, US President Donald Trump has just returned to the White House after a few days’ confinement at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he had been treated for COVID-19. He tested positive last week.
Although in an interview with veteran journalist Bob Woodward early this year, Trump privately said that COVID-19 was a serious threat, in public he constantly belittled the gravity of the problem, telling Americans that it was a minor illness that would soon go away. In fact, he eschewed the wearing of masks and other safety practices that experts insisted could save lives. This resulted in ambivalence on the part of Americans for this simple but proven health measure.
Even today, after more than seven million cases and more than 200,000 deaths in the United States, it is estimated that less than half of the citizens still don’t wear masks in public.
A medical expert recently interviewed on CNN has said that as many as 86,000 lives can be saved from the projected number of deaths between now and the end of the year, if more people would just start wearing masks. This very simple and effective health precaution has not been universally practiced due in large part to the attitude and example of the mask-averse leader of the country.
If Trump recovers, which I sincerely hope, I would not presume to know what valuable lessons, if any, he will have learned from his personal ordeal. But like many others, I will be interested to find out if he would henceforth be consistently wearing a mask in public (like his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, whom he constantly mocked for wearing “a big mask”), and what new message, if any, he would have for his country’s 328 million citizens.
On a global scale, I believe the present pandemic is more than just another urgent warning. I’m convinced that it is the final wake-up call that, if humanity doesn’t stop abusing the environment, the unmitigated manifestations of irreversible climate change, including more pandemics, will soon take their inevitable toll around the globe. This is the society-wide lesson, and although the onus is on global leaders, we ordinary citizens can’t escape our share of the responsibility.
But more than this macrolesson, the virus has numerous microlessons for each of us personally. For this, we need individual discernment. I recall these wise words: “This pandemic will bring out either the best or the worst in people.”
Here are some of the best insights and lessons I have personally heard or read about, many of which are from people I know.
• From a mother: “The quarantine has brought my family much closer, and each member is doing his/her share for the rest. Without our regular help, the children willingly do their assigned tasks, even while studying online or working from home.”
• From a doctor: “Both of my two daughters are also doctors—and front-liners. To protect us, their parents, they don’t go home but have rented a separate place. In fact, one of them got infected, but has recovered and has gone back on duty.” This situation has articulated both their solicitude for their parents and their unflagging commitment to serving others.
• From an office employee: “When I see so many people losing their jobs, some even in my own company, I’ve learned to value my work and am doing it with greater diligence.”
• From a wealthy acquaintance: “I just realized that one can live more simply, and with much less. Most of my cars are just parked in the garage, and I hardly get to use many of my clothes in the closet. I mostly walk around in my T-shirt, shorts and sneakers.”
• From several friends (typical comment): “When I see all those people (jeepney drivers, construction workers and other daily-wage earners) without income, and their families going hungry, I feel very fortunate to have enough set aside for a rainy day. I now go out of my way to help others in any way I can.”
Fragility of life
• From a recovered COVID-19 patient: “I have learned not to take anything for granted, especially the love and company of my family. Being without any of them in the hospital was a terrible experience.”
• From a florist (who sends bouquets to the bereaved families in the community who have lost their loved ones during the quarantine): “That’s the least I can do for my neighbors who didn’t even see their loved ones die and could not even hold a proper wake.”
For me personally, the two lessons/insights that stand out are:
• The utter fragility of life: This year alone I have counted the loss of about 20 people—relatives, friends and personal acquaintances—due to the pandemic and other illnesses which I suspect were aggravated by the situation. We have to “live fully in the present.”
• The need for greater generosity: Many of us went out of our way to help those in need at the start of the strict lockdown. But as the pandemic drags on, perhaps into next year and beyond, we need to continue helping because this situation calls for more than “one-off” generosity.
One great source of satisfaction I personally experienced was when a former helper texted that her month-old baby was sick and was turning yellow, and she had no money to take her to the doctor. Suspecting infant hepatitis, I immediately sent some funds via GCash. Two weeks later, she sent me a photo of a smiling, healthy-looking baby girl, saying she was able to buy the medicines prescribed by the doctor, and that her daughter had recovered.
The lesson: Sometimes what to us is an expendable small amount may help save another person’s life. —CONTRIBUTED